Discover the Deepest Lake in Washington

Lake Chelan in Washington state
iStock.com/Bill Kingman

Written by Cindy Rasmussen

Updated: August 1, 2023

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Key Points:
  • The deepest lake in Washington, Lake Chelan, is also the third deepest in the United States.
  • You can fish for salmon, trout, and bass in Lake Chelan — and maybe a lake dragon!
  • The biggest lake in Washington is the Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake.

The beautiful landscape of Washington is a mix of majestic mountains, lush green forests and crisp, cool rivers and lakes. Along the coast, you will find the Puget Sound and a variety of bays. The Pacific Coast is lined with sandy beaches and tide pools teaming with starfish and sea anemones. The tide pools are the shallowest bodies of water in Washington but what is the deepest? The Pacific Ocean will be deeper than any lakes in the state, but it might surprise you just how deep one of the lakes in Washington is. Let’s find out all about the deepest lake in Washington!

Infographic of Lake Chelan
Located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, Lake Chelan is the third-deepest lake in the U.S.

What Is the Deepest Lake in Washington?

The deepest lake in Washington is Lake Chelan. Lake Chelan is the third-deepest lake in the United States! It is even deeper than any of the Great Lakes — even Lake Superior. It is located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and was formed years ago when the glaciers melted and dragged across the rugged rocks. Do you know how you can take your fingernail and drag it across a piece of chalk and make an indent? The rock that was around Lake Chelan was similar, making it easier for the glacier to make a deep, very deep, impression.

Speed boat cruising on Lake Chelan in Washington.

The deepest lake in Washington is Lake Chelan with a depth of 1,486 feet.

How Deep Is the Deepest Lake in Washington?

The deepest lake in Washington is 1,486 feet deep. For reference, the Space Needle in Washington is 605 feet tall. You could stack nearly two and a half Space Needles at the bottom of Lake Chelan. The lake is a long skinny lake around 50 miles long and only 1-2 miles wide. The surface area of the lake is 52.1 square miles.

Where Is Lake Chelan Located on a Map?

Lake Chelan is in Chelan County in north-central Washington state. It is approximately three hours from Seattle. On the lake’s shores are the incorporated city of Chelan, the census-designated place of Manson, and the unincorporated community of Stehekin, which is surrounded by the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.

Is Lake Chelan a Recreational Lake?

Yes! Most of Lake Chelan is tree-lined and undeveloped, but there are several towns on the lake and a state park. The town of Chelan is at the southern end of the lake near the Lake Chelan Dam. According to the 2010 census, Chelan is a small town of around 4,000 residents. Lake Chelan State Park is also on the southern shore and has a large sandy beach, boat launch, and campground. The campground can accommodate large campers, and some have full hookups.

On the northern end of the lake is a small town that is only accessible by boat or plane. The town of Stehekin is in the North Cascade Mountains and has several scenic hiking trails to explore. A 2.5-mile hike will take you to visit the Agnes Gorge and a beautiful waterfall.

Chelan, Washington

The town of Chelan is at the southern end of the lake with around 4,000 residents.

How Is the Fishing on Lake Chelan?

The fishing on Lake Chelan is excellent with kokanee salmon and lake trout (mackinaw) being the most sought-after catches. You can fish from the dock at the Lake Chelan State Park or put your boat in to explore the shoreline and deeper areas of the lake. Anglers recommend fishing for Kokanee from mid-April to May. Other fish in the lake include cutthroat trout, Chinook salmon, and smallmouth bass.

Are There Any Fishing Records From Lake Chelan?

Yes! The biggest lake trout (mackinaw) was caught in Lake Chelan on February 4, 2013. Phil Colyar reeled in a 35.63-pound lake trout while out fishing the cool waters of Lake Chelan. Lake trout prefer cool waters on deep lakes. While they won’t swim 1,000+ feet deep, Lake Chelan does provide many deep fishing holes for lake trout to grow to some trophy sizes!

Does a Sea Monster Live in the Deepest Lake in Washington?

Yes … well, maybe. The legend of the Lake Chelan Dragon has been passed down from generation to generation with several variations on the story. While there is no proof of a giant dragon-like sea monster, the locals claim it has an alligator body, a head like a snake, and giant bat wings. While you are out trying to catch the next biggest lake trout, keep your eye out for the Lake Chelan Dragon … and bring your camera!

Lake Chelan in Washington state

Legend has it that there’s a sea monster lurking in the depths of Lake Chelan.

Was There a School Bus Accident on Lake Chelan?

Unfortunately, a piece of Lake Chelan’s history includes a tragic accident involving a school bus. On November 26, 1945, the Monday after Thanksgiving break, a bus driver with 20 students and an adult passenger slid on the ice and snow and drove into the frigid lake. Five of the students and the adult female passenger broke through the window of the bus and swam to shore and survived. Tragically, the bus driver, Jack Randle, and 15 of the students died in the accident. A memorial is placed at the site, five miles up the South Lakeshore Road. It was a heartbreaking experience for a small town.

What Is the Biggest Lake in Washington?

The biggest lake in Washington is the Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake along the Columbia River. It is 123.6 square miles, making it the largest lake by surface area in the state. The reservoir, sometimes called Lake Roosevelt, is northwest of Spokane, Washington, with the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area surrounding it. This is an amazing area for wildlife such as bald eagles, osprey, and wild turkey. If you want some of the best walleye fishing in the state, Lake Roosevelt is an exceptional place for catching walleye in the 2-3 pound range. The biggest walleye ever caught in Washington was caught upstream near the McNary Dam, so you know the big ones are out there!

Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake (Lake Roosevelt) in Washington state

Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake (Lake Roosevelt) is the biggest lake in Washington state.

Are There Any Fishing Records on the Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake?

Yes! The biggest kokanee salmon ever caught in Washington was caught on Lake Roosevelt. On June 26, 2003, a 6.25-pound kokanee was pulled from the lake by Clarence F. Rief. The kokanee salmon in Lake Roosevelt is “non-anadromous sockeye salmon,” which just means that they spend their whole life in the lake; they are also called landlocked salmon. Sockeye salmon are born in freshwater then move out to the ocean to live in saltwater for a few years, then migrate back to their birthplace to spawn before they die. Washington has both kinds of salmon, with the salmon run on the coast drawing thousands of salmon every year.

How Deep Is Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake?

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake is 375 feet deep at the deepest point. That is a pretty deep point when it comes to lakes but doesn’t even compare to the deepest lake in Washington at 1,486 feet.

What Is the Deepest Lake in the United States?

The deepest lake in the United States is Crater Lake in Oregon. Crater Lake is 1,949 feet deep, so just a couple hundred feet deeper than Lake Chelan. It is around 500 miles south of Lake Chelan and was not created by the glaciers dragging through its path. Crater Lake was formed when an old volcano erupted and left a gaping hole in the top of its mountain. It filled in with water and created what we know as Crater Lake today!


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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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